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Gethin Nadin


Chief Innovation Officer, Benefex

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Sick note culture and the rise of ‘Corpowelfare’

Gethin Nadin responds to the Prime Minister’s plans to tackle "sick note culture" with government ‘Corpowelfare’ approach.
Gethin Nadin responds to the Prime Minister’s plans to tackle "sick note culture" with government ‘Corpowelfare’ approach.

Last week the UK’s Prime Minister set out his plans for the government to tackle the UK’s “sick note culture”. As I’ve written about previously in HRZone, the average number of days lost to sickness in the UK has been steadily rising for some time, now reaching record highs. 

Alongside this, economic activity due to long-term ill health has also reached a record high. So it’s no surprise the Government thinks swift, drastic action is the way forward. 

While I agree that we must fix this situation and relieve some of the burden being placed on the state, should we be worried about the approach the government is taking?

The biggest problem with the statements made by the PM and the plans he has so far laid out is that they all start from the assumption that many, if not most, of those on welfare in the UK are not actually ill, disabled, or unable to work. 

What Rishi Sunak claims is a “lifestyle choice”. Not only does this approach symbolise the dog whistle politics this administration has become famous for, but it’s dangerous too. 

Scaring and shaming people into work will not be successful

Many criticisms of the PM’s plans and comments take aim at the fact that he appears to demonise disabled people and those with long-term health conditions. This is actually quite uncomfortable to read. Scaring and shaming people into work seeks to create a workforce that is disengaged, unhappy and quite frankly ineffective. 

It is also a divisive rhetoric at a time when disability hate crimes are on the rise. The government’s own Disability Action Plan published only a few months February states that they want to make “this country the most accessible place in the world for disabled people to live, work and thrive”. This plan, in my view, flies in the face of that. 

What the government should be focused on is helping employers to make reasonable adjustments to welcome more disabled people back into work and supporting those with long-term health conditions to return to the workforce. 

This requires them to focus on the root causes of long-term ill health and better fund state services to get people the help they need quickly. 

Corpowelfare refers to the state shifting its responsibilities onto employers. 

Government pushing ‘Corpowelfare’

There are currently millions of people waiting for NHS mental health services. I predict for every month a person waits; the timeline of their recovery gets exponentially worse. The focus is on the wrong problem – but appears to be a pattern of behaviour that seeks to abolish the UK’s history of being a welfare state. 

So actually, what the government is doing here is pushing its decades-long agenda to force the employer to deal with issues it used to itself; from auto-enrolment to the gross underfunding of the NHS that is driving record levels of corporate health insurance in the UK. What we are experiencing is a new version of privatisation. Or what I’m going to call ‘Corpowelfare’.

Where privatisation used to mean the government selling off its operations to private enterprise, Corpowelfare refers to the state shifting its responsibilities onto employers. 

The UK government has told me at meetings I’ve had with them that the US model of health where the employer primarily funds and drives things like insurance is attractive to them. 

I think the PM’s recent rhetoric appeals to the idea that the less the state runs for its people, the less welfare-driven the UK becomes, and the more economically it will operate.

Government tate appears disinterested in why people are struggling

All of the research and data I’ve read from the impact of the 2008 financial crash to the pandemic and the recent cost of living crisis tell me quite clearly that fifteen years of generation-defining challenges have impacted life in the UK. 

People are less well, aren’t living as long and their mental health has declined. So are we in a health crisis or are people just reacting appropriately to the society they now live in? 

It is not the fault of the British people. Decades of austerity measures and gross underfunding of health and disability services are the primary reasons behind the significant and “spiralling” disability welfare bill. 

Action should be taken, but the action that should be taken is to find ways to bring people back to work in an appropriate way. By making sure they are well enough, that they have the skills and confidence, and that employers can and supported to make the right adjustments. 

Employers represent future for government failure

While I have little confidence that the current government has the right attitude and sense of care to help people in this way, I do believe that employers do. 

Employers have the ability to help where the state isn’t, to offer the kind of wellbeing support and benefits that not only prevent people from becoming long-term ill, but support more back to work. 

They can take proactive steps like signing the disability employment charter to encourage the government to better support employers in helping disabled people into work. 

The kind of social value created by employers who help where the state isn’t, is where I think our society as it stands will begin to flourish. And those organisations will too.

Read Work and Pensions Secretary claims mental health “gone too far”

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Gethin Nadin

Chief Innovation Officer, Benefex

Read more from Gethin Nadin

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